The Ethical and Legal Issues
Surrounding Faith Based Healing
Should a parent be able to make the ultimate and final decision to provide medical treatment for their child? Do parents have the right to choose prayer instead of modern medicine to relieve their child’s suffering? Throughout this paper I will attempt to provide various examples, both local and national, of religious sects that believe in the power of prayer rather then conventional medicine when it comes to healing. Many court battles and legislative decisions have been appealed due to the repetitive arguments over the freedom of religion. Since the 1970’s forty-four states have had some type of religious exemptions laws that limited the punitive actions brought against the parents who refused to attain medical attention for their children. This first amendment right has convinced some legislators into believing that parents should not be prosecuted when they fail to attain medical attention for their children who eventually die. Many of these illnesses are easily treatable through vaccines or antibiotics. Although every religion has some reliance on a higher power for healing, it is the denominations that refuse to attain medical attention for their children that will be addressed throughout this paper.
What is faith based healing? “Faith healing is founded on the belief that certain people or places have the ability to cure and heal –that someone or something can eliminate disease or heal injuries through a close connection to a higher power” ( Faith Healing, n.d.). This belief is taught by charismatic and persuasive leaders who often lead large congregations and amass small fortunes in contributions. Individuals within these religious sects often avoid interactions with outsiders and tend to associate only with fellow church members Although there are many religions throughout the world that depend on a limited amount of spiritual intervention, there only exist a handful of staunch religious advocates that discourage any use of medical treatment for themselves and their dependents. According to a website published by the Massachusetts Citizens for Children in 1992 “There are at least 20 different sects and religious groups throughout the US whose teachings deny the use of medical care” (Death by religious exemption, 1992). Of these groups Christian Science is the most prominent with and estimated 200, 000 members within its 1800 churches nationwide who were convinced that God was the only healer of sick persons. ( Death by religious exemption, 1992). Christian Science has long been touted in scandal since the 1970’s. Rita and Doug Swan, co-founders of nonprofit child advocacy group CHILD, were once prominent members of the Christian Science community but have since defected from the group after the death of their 18-month-old son Matthew. This young boy died from a very treatable form of meningitis. However, as a part of the Christian Science community, these educated individuals were “…led to believe that illness does not exist, that it is an illusion, and that its seeming manifestation can be eliminated by prayer augmented with a strong mental refusal to recognize its existence” (Castle, 2005). According to Rita Swan, the evolution of this spirituality based religion has its origins in the 19th century carnival acts of Marcus Quimby and Mary Baker Eddy. “When Quimby died, Eddy turned his methods into a religion based on the notion that disease is imaginary” (Castle, 2005 p. 2). This religion taught that as long as the infected individual had a very strong belief in the healing powers of God then all of their illnesses would be cured. If the ritual was not successful that meant the person (child in many cases) did not have enough faith and that it God’s intention for the child to expire. The Swans, along with other child advocates, have attempted to lobby legislators...
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